By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
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Videographer / director: John Paul Steele
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Describing her wheelchair as both her “best friend” and her “worst enemy”, Karneshia Patton has used one since she was just three years old.
The 28-year-old, from Birmingham, Alabama, has Spina Bifida, a congenital birth defect where the spine and spinal cord don’t develop properly.
In Karneshia’s case, she is paralysed from the waist down. But she’s not letting her disability stop her from doing anything. Studying for an MBA, working at a nail salon and going hard at the gym, Karneshia has now turned to the catwalk, modelling at a number of events.
Karneshia told Barcroft TV: “On a day-to-day basis I wouldn’t necessarily say that I had to adapt to Spina Bifida. It’s more so that I just adapt to life in whatever situation. I mean I just go by the best way that I know how to do it.
“I would say that it doesn’t really affect me. I don’t think Spina Bifida really affects me at all.
“Spina Bifida is a congenital birth defect where there is a whole new spinal cord. And mine was located in the L5 region. So that caused me to be paralysed from the waist down.
“There’s nothing that I can do to strengthen my legs because I have no function or feeling in my legs.”
Karneshia got her first wheelchair - a hot pink number - at the age of three.
She said: “Before I was in a wheelchair I remember just kind of crawling around preschool when my mom helped. I used to get around with her shoulder.
"So, I guess when I was out through the stroller we got a wheelchair and it was a hot pink wheelchair.
“My relationship with my wheelchair can probably best be described as my best friend and my worst enemy."
Karneshia’s disability led to other problems during her schooldays.
She explained: “I would say that I was bullied in middle school, maybe 5th or 6th grade.
“There were times growing up when I did resent my wheelchair before I actually came to terms with my disability and accepted who I was.
"But I think that’s when we were going through that awkward adolescent phase when kids were kind of cruel and just kind of wanted to be like other kids. I was like - I don’t need to be like the other kids.”
So Karneshia started training at the gym – managing to do pull-ups in her wheelchair - and playing basketball.
She said: “I have been working out since I was in high school. I actually started lifting myself up with pull-ups and things like that. The most pull-ups I have done are 10.”
“I started playing basketball in high school with the junior league.
“I always wanted to play, I tried to try out for the senior’s team a couple of times. And I did feel excluded where the coach felt like I was a hazard to the team or that I didn’t fit in somehow. So, that was sometimes when I felt excluded.”
Now a member of the Lakeshore Foundation’s wheelchair basketball team, Karneshia practices twice a week during the basketball season, which runs September to April.
On the court Karneshia’s biggest challenge is blocking her competitor but in real life she admits being in a wheelchair has its daily challenges.
She said: “Sometimes I do get frustrated with thinking about day to day tasks and what route I might have to take to get there. Maybe, how long it might take me to get ready?
"Going to a building that may not be accessible is very frustrating because you have to plan your day accordingly and it really shouldn’t be like that.
“I just change the way I think about it when I get discouraged and disheartened. I just deal with the now and if I can’t change what happened, just move on from it.”
As well as studying for an MBA in business during the evenings, Karneshia works as a nail technician.
And now she is enjoying her latest passion - modelling.
Karneshia said: “I got into modelling about two to three years ago when I was asked to do a photo shoot. After that I just kind of fell in love with the world of modelling.
“I went on a couple of fashion show model calls and I just really enjoy the fashion world and being on the runway. I just became engulfed in it.
“The first time I walked down the catwalk, I was very, very nervous. My hands were sweaty, shaking. But once I saw the love I was getting and the smiles on people’s faces I fell in love with it.
“I would absolutely love to do more modelling in the future.
Karneshia also hopes that her move into the fashion world will inspire others to overcome obstacles and follow their dreams.
She said: “Representation matters to everyone. When you can look on a screen or photo and see somebody that you can relate to, that could encourage someone to go out and pursue their dreams.
“I would say that as far as diversity inclusiveness goes in the disabled community, people are getting better at recognising us, knowing that we are here.
“They see that we are not just at home, not just trying to stay away from the outside world. There are more of us that are getting out there, telling our stories.”